Preferential flow of surface-applied solutes: Effect of lysimeter design and initial soil water content

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Undisturbed lysimeters are widely used to study water and solute transport, where both natural and unnatural preferential flow can greatly influence leaching rates. The objective of this study was to use chemical and isotopic tracers to quantify the effect of initial soil water content and lysimeter design on preferential flows. Ten undisturbed lysimeters (900 cm2) were collected from an agricultural field, with the gap between the soil and lysimeter casing sealed with petroleum jelly for five lysimeters. Lysimeters were subjected to two rainfall simulations (3.3 cm h−1) under contrasting initial soil water contents, and leachate near the soil-casing interface was collected separately from leachate through the bulk soil. Three-component hydrograph separation revealed that event water comprised 21–59% of total leachate irrespective of initial soil water content and lysimeter design. Sealing the edges of the lysimeters with petroleum jelly greatly reduced but did not eliminate edge flow during rainfall simulations. Although water and solute transport were similar in both sealed and unsealed lysimeters under dry antecedent conditions due to the formation of shrinkage cracks on the soil surface, edge flow was substantially greater for the unsealed lysimeters under wet antecedent conditions. Unsealed edges under wet antecedent conditions facilitated the preferential transport of both event and pre-event water, resulting in greater solute leaching. Using multiple tracers to contrast lysimeter designs under different initial soil water contents not only allowed for rigorous testing of a commonly used edge-flow suppression technique but also provided new insights into preferential flow processes and patterns.



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Vadose Zone Journal

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